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Exciting and terrifying: Comics creators on making comics outside of traditional models

The Creator Symposium panel hosted by Women in Comics Collective International explores the ways in which creatives working in comics can continue to grow and thrive in an ever-changing industry

WinC Magazine Annual #1
Image credit: Sheeba Maya (Women in Comics Collective International)

While there's debate on if the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it's effect on life is immeasurable - even when focusing just on the world of comics creation. Back in July at Comic-Con International: San Diego, the Women in Comics Collective International hosted a group of creators to talk about the pandemic's effect on the craft and business of comics - both in the rear-view, and something they continue to deal with.

"I've developed an appreciation for being [at conventions] even though I'm not really cut out for public shows and stuff," said digital illustrator Maika Sozo, who lives with ADHD. "It can be a little too much. All the people everywhere and all the stuff, it's like, 'Aaah! I just want to go back into my little cave.' But I'm grateful for the people I've met and getting to meet other creators."

Sozo took part in the Creator Symposium panel at SDCC 2022, moderated by WinC founder Regine L. Sawyer. They were joined by First Second assistant editor Samia Fakih, Eisner-award winning writer and Best Jackett Press founder Scott Snyder, Milestone Comics editor and Illuminous CEO Joseph Illidge, digital illustrator Maika Sozo, and educator and Eisner-award winning writer David F. Walker.
The Creator Symposium at Comic-Con International: San Diego 2022
Image credit: Christine Pasalo Norland (Popverse)

Asked by Sawyer to reflect on the impact of the last few years on their work, panelists agreed that the mandated isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic made them reflect on how they stay connected with other artists and writers, the industry, and their art.

"I hate conventions and the impact they have on my body, and I'm so happy to be here right now," said Walker, whose credits include the Eisner-winning graphic novel The Black Panther Party published by Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House and the Eisner-winning Image comics series Bitter Root with Sanford Greene and Chuck Brown. "I never realized how important [conventions] were to my life and creativity."

I never realized how important [conventions] were to my life and creativity. - David Walker

"The pandemic made me reevaluate what I was making and why I was making it," said Fakih, who took a step back from drawing comics and started focusing on writing stories and making other types of art. "I self-published a book of poems for the first time ever. I never thought I'd do something like that, but it was what I needed to do during that time of isolation."

The panel also got candid about the ways the pandemic made them take a hard look at current industry practices.

"It put up a magnifier," said Illidge, who is also Executive Editor for the science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazine Heavy Metal. "The pandemic really showed a lot of us how these people creating these amazing things are living on the precipice of poverty. And one of the things that saved a lot of people was a supportive spouse with a 9–5 job and health and dental benefits that they could share."

"There is this sense that not everybody knows what they're getting into, too," said Fakih. "Not every creator knows, not every editor knows, not every art department knows because until now, comics and graphic novels in mainstream trade publishing were also divided and now we're seeing a lot more overlap, but there's no standard for how to go about it."

The age of direct-to-consumer

Panelists also acknowledged that artists coming up today readily take advantage of a myriad of direct-to-audience platforms like Substack, Patreon, Ko-Fi, Gumroad, and Lulu to develop their own products and creator identities outside of the traditional comics and book publishers.

"I already have an established business. I'm already working in freelancing," said Sozo, a self-taught artist who has produced art for DC, Image, and Riot Games. "There's so many different ways to publish and I'm starting to notice a lot of people are getting really bored with the way things are right now and so I'm starting to see a radical change."

"I think we're at a crucial time of transition and evolution that's super exciting and also very terrifying," said Walker.

Snyder, whose writing credits includes works with Marvel and DC in addition to creator-owned titles published through his imprint Best Jackett Press, agreed that the industry is at an inflection point.

There's no traditional rules any more about how to safeguard yourself from certain things, knowing about rights, or knowing how to option something. - Scott Snyder

"It's exciting, and wild, and vibrant, and there's weird, cool opportunities to take advantage of, but there's a pervasive uncertainty about there being stability, or a floor that you can rely on," he said. "There's no traditional rules any more about how to safeguard yourself from certain things, knowing about rights, or knowing how to option something."

"That's the point of this panel," said Sawyer. "It's about helping people. It's about informing each other and informing the greater audience in the industry, and how we want to see it become better and how we can become better ourselves."

The growth of comics is not the next Batman. The growth of comics is Lore Olympus. - Joseph Illidge

Asked by an audience member about the future of comic book shops and retailing, panelists agreed that growth in that area would at least require being less focused on a collector's market and more on readership.

"The sooner we get more young people as retailers, the more growth we can have. Younger people are connected to the growth of comics. They are the growth of comics," added Illidge. "I love Batman. The growth of comics is not the next Batman. The growth of comics is Lore Olympus."

Read a collection of all our stories spilling out of Comic-Con International: San Diego 2022 here.